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My experience of rolling down a mountain in a Maruti Gypsy

We were still rolling down, and it just was not ending. While we were rolling, I clearly remember struggling to hold my friend’s hand, was it fear of death or did I want to know, if he was doing, okay? I still do not have an answer for this.

BHPian akshay 4587 recently shared this with other enthusiasts.

What's one's worst nightmare while driving around in the mountains; Is it rolling down one????

I lived that nightmare and survived.

Intrigued????

Read on!!!!

Prologue:

It all started when my best friend got a 2011 Gypsy in 2014. It came with fat tyres (295 section), and an AC. All of this was axed within the first month of ownership and it was sent for a rally build. It got a rally cabin, roll cage, Sparco racing seats and 5-point seat belts, along with the mandatory loud exhaust. Once we had it in our hands, it was decided that we get into the car rally scene. My friend the Gypsy owner being the driver, and me being his navigator.

Our first rally - Rally of Rajasthan January 2015:

As per the Federation of Motor Sports Club of India, you cannot participate in the extreme category if it is your first motorsports event; so even though we had a Gypsy ready for the extreme category, we ended up racing in the TSD category. Which itself was quite fun, due to a lot of night stages and sand driving.

Since the rally Involved night stages, we installed a few extra lights on the Gypsy:

 Our GPS gave up the ghost on day 2, so we had to abandon the rally, nevertheless, it was a wonderful experience. And at one point in time, we managed to max out the Gypsy, sharing the photo since it was on a controlled stretch of road:

The first mountain rally - SJOBA 2015:

This is one of the oldest motorsport events in the country, organized by St John’s Old Boys Association hence the name SJOBA Rally.

This rally is flagged from St John's School in Chandigarh, and travels via the back roads of villages and lower Himalayas, finally ending up at Shimla/Chail/Kufri (usually).

It is a 3-day event, the break-up is as follows:

  • Day 1: Vehicles/documents scrutiny followed by a Super Special Stage on a dirt track.
  • Day 2: Flag-off for the main rally from St John's School: Chandigarh- Shimla/Chail/Kufri
  • Day 3: Shimla/Chail/Kufri- St John's School Chandigarh.

This being our second event, we were finally doing, what we wanted to do. An extreme rally in our Gypsy. It went nice and smooth; we did well for our first rally, amongst the big boys of motorsports. Since it has been more than 6 years. I will just share the highlights of this event.

  • In the Super Special Stage on the dirt track, we almost managed to topple the Gypsy, but the quick reaction on time saved us.
  • We were on Yokohama Geolander AT tyres for this event, and they were not suitable for an event like this, as we struggled for traction a lot of times. We immediately ordered a set of Yokohama Advans after this event.
  • Got a speeding ticket from the infamous Chandigarh police officers during the last transport stage.

SJOBA 2018 - Our last mountain rally (The rollover down the mountain):

The series of events before our inevitable rollover down the mountain.

I barely have any photos of this rally apart from our crash.

  • In 2016, I had immigrated to Australia, ending my brief rally career in India.
  • SJOBA is held in March every year.
  • March 2018, I was in India on a vacation and was supposed to return to Australia in the second week of March.
  • Early in March, my wife had some health issues, and she had to be operated upon followed by a month of bed rest, so we pushed our return tickets to the third week of April.
  • SJOBA Rally somehow got postponed to 13th April.
  • My friend with whom I used to navigate had already arranged for a navigator.
  • A week before the rally, his navigator backed off, and knowing that I was around, he rushed to me; I was a bit hesitant this time, but him being a close friend, could not refuse.

14th April 2018 - The flag off and the roll over:

We reached the Flag off Venue, St John’s School Chandigarh sharp at 7 am.

Somehow this morning, I had this unexplained discomfort, I had this feeling something was not right. Somehow, I ignored it, and we were flagged off. A few km into the first transport stage, I realized that we forgot the road book for the rally.

This brought back the discomfort as if this was a sign. Ignored it again and I rushed back to the flag-off venue with a friend in one of the support cars and managed to secure the road book and we were off.

It was all smooth until we reached the second last special stage; While negotiating a hairpin bend, the Gypsy somehow shifted into neutral on its own and we were stranded in the middle of the curve. It was the transfer case, that somehow had shifted to neutral. We shifted back to 4L, and quickly sped ahead, towards the finish point for the stage, which was the Chail Palace and our venue for the lunch too.

The last Special Stage (SS-10) and our crash/rollover:

The discomfort was long gone and after a hearty delicious lunch followed by a round of a couple of gulab jamuns for dessert. I was all set for the last stage of the rally. The plan was to finish the last stage, relax for the evening at the resort booked by the rally officials. Little did I know, what lay ahead.

The flag off for the last special stage got delayed, as a couple of villagers had locked their horns with the marshals and rally organizers over the closure of the road (This is a usual event in most of the cross-country Motorsport events). After some negotiations, it was time to be flagged off.

The rollover down the mountain:

The flag off was smooth, and we were soon ripping and pushing our Gypsy around the curved dirt roads, for added grip, all the special stages are done either in 4H or 4L mode, depending upon the gradient and nature of roads.

It was all nice and smooth until we reached the dreadful curve; I took a call for my driver; Easy right; I screamed with my voice getting muffled by the loud exhaust note of the Gypsy.

The curve was nice and easy, and we were not too fast, but the next thing I remember, was the steering wheel spinning out of control, and my friend was not able to correct it.

It all happened in a few milliseconds, and then, the inevitable happened. We reached the cliff, and there was a free fall.

Suddenly, the Gypsy hit something, it could have been a tree or the ground or anything.

We were still rolling down, and it just was not ending. While we were rolling, I clearly remember struggling to hold my friend’s hand, was it fear of death or did I want to know, if he was doing, okay? I still do not have an answer for this.

The Gypsy was still rolling, and I clearly remember screaming Ohhh **** repeatedly.

All this while, there was this feeling inside me, that I am not going to die. After a few more seconds (that felt like hours), the Gypsy came to a standstill, we were at the bottom of the gorge, and thankfully, the Gypsy had landed on all 3’s (one tyre had disintegrated from the Chassis). There was a cloud of dust, and branches of trees all around.

We had rolled 30-50 times (approximately) and about 300 ft down the mountain.

As we gained senses, my friend shouted, 'Akshay Are you okay?', I responded; Yes, I am, or whatever it felt like at that time. I repeated the same question for him, and he responded, he was fine too.

This is when I realized that something was not right with the bottom of my right foot, and that both of my legs were protruding outside of the Gypsy from the windshield, which had shattered obviously. After a few seconds, it dawned on us, that we both had made it without any major injuries, I checked my limbs and they were all in order, I had a visible laceration on my left-hand knuckle, and something at the bottom of my right foot, while my friend did not have any visible lacerations or injuries.

The Takata seat belts had us still strapped up In the Sparco seats. We unbuckled the seat belts, removed our helmets and then I realized that left door had been ripped apart, and my friend was not able to open his door. I somehow managed to crawl out of the Gypsy. Threw away my helmet, and just laid down on the mountainside. Due to the injury, under my right foot, I was unable to walk easily. A quick look around informed me that all our belongings were scattered all over the mountainside, luckily, my phone and wallet were still in my pocket. I could spot my bag lying further down the mountain gorge.

My friend was uninjured, so he decided to climb up the mountain for help.

The rally was still in progress, he tried to flag down some competitors, but since they did not know what had happened, no one stopped. Somehow, and I still cannot fathom how a local police officer had gotten the news of the crash, he reached the spot within a few minutes and asked for my well being. He offered me some water and asked me to take his support and walk up the mountain. Now that was another task due to injury on my right foot, and the police officer would have been a healthy 60-65kgs while I was at an unhealthy figure of 98kgs, somehow, we both managed to reach the top after some struggle. By then SJOBA officials had been informed, the rally marshals managed to reach the accident spot, and I was made to sit on the back seat of their Duster. The SJOBA official ambulance of the event, which is usually a Mercedes Sprinter van, was at the other end of the stage and had supposedly broken down. So, all I could do was wait in the back seat of Duster. I still did not know, as to what was wrong with my foot, as I had the shoe on for now.

By then, some more police officers and locals had gathered at the spot, and this is where the real circus began. The series of events that followed:

  • Cops wanted to register a police case and take us to Shimla, and we were totally against it.
  • One of the locals was a lawyer, and he was all over the rally officials as to how they could close the road and organize a life threatening event like this.
  • A few locals offered some water and eatables, but they also demanded cancellation of the rally at once, however by this time, all the vehicles had been flagged off.
  • I was feeling all right all this while, and did not look like any emergency medical attention was needed, so after struggling with the police officers for about 90 minutes (about 1 and a half hours), the rally officials drove me and my friend to the resort for the evening, wherein the doctor on duty gave me first aid.
  • They were not carrying an ATS shot with them, and the local dispensary in Chail did not have one either, So I had to get one from the local chemist.
  • It was a sleepless night with lots of muscle pains but somehow managed to get over it.
  • The SJOBA officials were quite supportive after the crash, however, the next morning, they just vanished.

The Next Morning:

Drove to the crash site in a friend’s Fortuner, this is when I appreciated last evening’s Duster’s ride quality as compared to bone Jarring experience in the Fortuner. Managed to arrange a crane, who agreed to drop the Gypsy back to Chandigarh for 25K. We were driven back to our respective homes, my friend was back in action the next day, however, it took a little more than a month for my foot wound to heal, as ideally it should have been stitched. But it had been more than 24 hours post the crash, so upon doctors' suggestion, I was grounded for almost a month, even though the injury was minor.

After going through this, and a couple of motorcycle falls, I am a firm believer in safety equipment. Had it not been for the roll cage, Takata harness, Sparco seats, and FIA approved helmets, I would not have been alive to pen this down.

Motorsports is Dangerous; but you live only once.

Drive Safe People!!!!

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